Roberto Clemente Honored Again, But Is He among the Greatest Ever?

Matthew SteinhiserContributor IJune 19, 2008

I was born 13 years too late to have seen the greatness in right field that was Roberto Clemente.


But if you ask anyone that was fortunate enough to see Clemente play during his career as a Pittsburgh Pirate, they'll tell you Clemente was poetry in motion when he was patroling right field for the Bucs. Whether he was catching a ball in deep right field and throwing out a runner headed for third or making a catch and twirling around as he threw it back into play, he was a joy to watch.


Roberto Clemente will be honored by the Pittsburgh Pirates and Rawlings as he was named to the All-Time Gold Glove team, celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the award.


But is Clemente appreciated among the greatest in the game? In Pittsburgh he certainly is. At PNC Park there are plenty of things to remind you of Roberto Clemente. His No.  21 is retired by the organization. The right field wall at PNC Park is exactly 21 feet high in his honor. Pictures grace the ballpark of him from a young, shy rookie all the way to when he was an older, confident leader of the team


Yet, 36 years after losing his life in a plane crash, he still doesn't seem to get the recognition he deserves.


Clemente collected 3,000 hits in his career. He won 12 consecutive Gold Gloves from 1961 to 1972. He dominated the 1971 World Series that the Pirates won because of him and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1973


If you asked any so-called "baseball experts" who they thought was the three greatest outfielders to ever play the game, I am willing to make a bet that less than half would say Clemente. I believe the reason is because he didn't hit with the power as the other star outfielders did.


The most home runs that Clemente hit in one season was 29 in 1966. He ended his career with 240 home runs. When you compare that to the likes of Willie Mays, who hit over 600 home runs in his career, or Hank Aaron, who hit over 700 home runs, and even compare him with the likes of Ken Griffey Jr. or Barry Bonds, Clemente seems to get lost in the mix.


None of these players have won as many Gold Gloves as Clemente, except for Mays who won just as many. Junior Griffey won 10 Gold Gloves, Barry Bonds 8, Hank Aaron 3 and Andruw Jones won 10. These players are considered to be the greatest outfielders in baseball history and Clemente is the only one that I listed that didn't hit for power.


Willie Mays was by far the most complete outfielder ever and is probably the greatest outfielder ever. But Clemente was the greatest right fielder ever. He had the best arm in baseball at the time and that is proved by the fact that he led the majors in outfield assists five times (1958, 1960, 1961, 1966, and 1967) and by his gold glove awards.


Clemente also won 4 batting titles (1961, 1964, 1965 and 1967) and was able to win an MVP award in 1966, in a time when black baseball players weren't respected.


The fact that Clemente was a Spanish speaking Puerto Rican, that could be a big reason why Clemente seems to be forgotten. With only one MVP award to his credit, he comes up short against the other all-time great outfielders in that category. Clemente often publicly complained about injuries, but when he played the game, he gave 110 percent effort.

Roberto Clemente will be honored by the Pirates on June 21st before a home game against the Toronto Blue Jays and if there is anything baseball fans and "experts" could do, it would be to finally acknowledge that the greatest right fielder to ever play the game of baseball was Pittsburgh Pirates legend, Roberto Clemente.